< Back to Part 1Purchasing a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Purchasing a carbon monoxide detector should not be done randomly. Laboratory tests on carbon monoxide detectors have shown that not all detectors are the same. In the tests, some failed to issue an alarm at very high CO levels while others issued an alarm at levels much too low. Since you will not know if the alarm being issued is real or false, you need to be able to trust it.
Make sure the detector is certified by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and meets voluntary UL standard 2034. This standard requires alarms to sound when exposure to carbon monoxide reaches potentially hazardous levels over a period of time. For example, if the CO level is only 30 parts per million (ppm), the alarm should not activate for at least eight hours. However, if the CO level reaches 400 ppm, the alarm should activate in between four to 15 minutes. These standards help reduce the number of false alarms while ensuring that people will be warned in time.
Carbon monoxide detectors can be electric or battery operated. The two types cost the same but have different pros and cons. Battery operated detectors are easier to install, but they require periodic maintenance and must be reset manually if they are triggered. Electric detectors are more difficult to install because they must be near an outlet or hard wired. However, they require no maintenance during their lifetime (five to ten years) and will reset immediately once the CO problem has been corrected. Electric detectors also use a solid-state sensor than can keep you up-to-date on the CO levels in your house.
Whichever type you choose, make sure you follow the manufacturer's guidelines for installing and maintaining it. The best detector money can buy will not work if it is installed incorrectly or if it is not maintained.
When Your Alarm Goes Off
If your carbon monoxide detector's alarm goes off, do not panic. First, make sure it is your carbon monoxide detector and not your smoke detector. Immediately move everyone to fresh air, either by going outside or opening your windows. Check to see if anyone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning. These symptoms include headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, feeling faint, and shortness of breath. If they are, immediately leave the house and call 911.
If no one is feeling symptoms, continue to ventilate the home and turn off all potential sources of CO. This includes furnaces, water heaters, gas or kerosene heaters, and any gas appliances. Then, contact a qualified technician to inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly.
You should never totally rely on your carbon monoxide detector for protection. Preventing CO poisoning is as important as installing a carbon monoxide detector. However, once they are installed, they become an effective safeguard for you and your family. Carbon monoxide detectors will cost only a few cents per month, but the benefits are priceless.
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